Copyright© 2020 by Cheryl Bayavia
The Golden Rule
In my classroom for many years, I posted a list of the Golden Rule as stated in many different religions. In essence, it tells us to treat others as we wish to be treated. I had found it in an old book in a DC public library, and I made it a part of my social studies classes in inner city public schools in both DC and Florida.
When I became a secular teacher in an Islamic School in Florida, I asked permission to post the Golden Rule as stated in many religions. I also sent a copy home with students. No one ever objected to students being taught the Golden Rule in my social studies classes.
One year at an inner city school in Florida, I was having difficulty with a group of students. I remembered the Golden Rule and made a conscious effort to apply it with all of my students. The problems quickly disappeared. Teachers need to be an example of what they teach, and they need to treat students the way they want to be treated; The Golden Rule is a good rule for all of us!
In my fourth grade class in DC one year, we had a holiday learning center with an Advent wreath celebrating Christmas, a Hanukah menorah, and a kinara used for Kwanza, an African American holiday celebrating African heritage. One of the students liked the colorful brass menorah a little too well, and it disappeared.
The other students missed the Hanukah menorah and disclosed who had taken it. I sent the student to the vice principal’s office, and it was returned. I asked her how she had persuaded the student to return the menorah. She laughed and confided that she had told him that it was a religious object, and that God would punish him if he didn’t return it. I was a little taken aback by her methods, but I was happy to have the menorah returned.
After a trip to Florida, I set up a learning center in my DC classroom. The display included a bottle of water from The Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine. One day I discovered that the bottle had been opened and some of the water was gone. I would love to have seen the look on the student’s face after tasting the sulfur water!
One day in Florida, I took my sixth grade students on a virtual shopping trip to the drug store as part of math class. Big mistake! One of the students lifted a pack of batteries! When we returned to the school, the principal informed me that she had gotten a call from the drug store.
A very well-behaved and hard-working student from my 9th grade African studies class once took my grade book. Luckily, he returned it! I never did find out what he had intended to do with the grade book. I believe he viewed taking the grade book as a harmless prank.
On a school field trip to an Indian reservation, there was a tub of cold drinks on ice being sold on the honor system. Concerned when I saw that, I appointed a student to collect the money…I think you can guess the rest of the story. I had “put the fox in charge of the henhouse!” The principal got a call that $100 worth of drinks had been consumed and not paid for.
In a sixth grade class, the most popular book in our classroom library was a field guide to Florida animals. One day it disappeared…the only book ever stolen from the classroom library in any of my classes!
My first teaching assignment was a first grade class in inner- city DC. At our scheduled time, we lined our classes up in the hallway to go to the restroom. After we had waited for a short while, a little girl grabbed my wrist to look at my watch. I will never forget the bewildered look on her face…”There are no numbers!” she said in amazement.
Another time we were waiting in the hall and a little girl asked me, “Are you getting blonde?” No… I was getting gray!
In a fourth grade class in that same school, students would sometimes slip up and call me “Mom.” Then they would look at me to see if that had upset me…No, that was an honor!
The most heartwarming thing I remember happening in DC was when my entire fourth grade class rushed up to me and gave me a group hug!
My son often reminds me of a very hard-working and helpful student who had been in my fourth grade class in DC. He was one of several students who used to stay after school to wash the boards and help me clean the fish tank and the guinea pig cage.
When I left for Florida because my husband had a new job there, I gave the fish tank to my student. Eight years later, he tracked me down in Florida to invite me to his high school graduation. “You were a good teacher,” my son always says. I’ll never forget how he remembered you!”
In a first grade class in DC, I looked over and saw a little girl chewing on what I thought was an uninflated balloon. When I got closer, I could see that it was not a balloon…it was birth control! I sent her to the vice principal. When the vice principal returned with the student, shaking her head, she whispered to me, “She said it was her older sister’s.”
During morning meeting in my fourth grade class, students used to sit in a circle on the floor. One morning, I asked a discussion question and went around the circle letting everyone answer. There were students in the school who had 30-year-old grandmothers, and that issue was something of great concern in DC. The question was, “How old would you like to be when you get married?”
I got various reasonable answers until I got to one little girl who answered, “twelve.” The other students gasped! This started a discussion, and other students told her why she shouldn’t get married too young. I felt very sorry for the little girl. I surely could not have anticipated her response to the question!
One year, DC teachers went out on strike for the day. Although I was a member of the teachers union, I chose not to participate in the strike. I looked up to see a TV camera in my classroom. As the only White person in that school of 500, I found being on TV in that situation very distressing! I stuck out like a sore thumb!
A year or two later, there was a “funeral march” to the yearly orientation at the convention center. Teachers protested by driving very slowly on their way to orientation and tying up traffic all over the city. Though I didn’t participate in the “funeral march,” I didn’t cross the picket line in front of the convention center. I went to a nearby cafe to drink herbal tea for a couple of hours. When orientation finally began, there were security guards in the aisles.
In Florida, my seventh grade class occasionally used to walk to a local restaurant for lunch. One day the principal got a call asking if she knew that her students were walking up the street. I was in my forties at the time and the only person not wearing the school uniform… Bermuda shorts and a polo shirt. Maybe my dress was a little too short, or maybe the caller needed glasses! “That’s the teacher!” the principal told the caller.
Another time when we went out to lunch, a street vendor was calling the students to buy his churros. He yelled angrily at me when I would not let my students buy churros from him. The students were not too happy with me either, but there was no way I was going to let the school get sued because I allowed students to buy food from an unlicensed vendor and get sick!
Our Florida school moved to a new building in Miami. One day I had been setting up my new classroom and was pulling the van out into the street. A woman was walking by on the sidewalk, and I waved for her to cross. Misunderstanding my hand gesture, she opened the passenger door and sat down…She was a prostitute, and I am still unsure what she thought she might do for me! Thankfully, the city soon got the prostitutes off the streets around our school.
One day, at that same school, two of our middle school girls, wearing their school uniforms, as I recall, left the school grounds and walked to the local strip club seeking a job. The strip club was not about to get in trouble by hiring underage girls! They called the principal and sent the girls back to school.
In a fourth grade class in DC, I had one student who, every time I looked at her, was reading a book. It turns out, she was super-intelligent and always finished her work very quickly. She beat out the fifth and sixth graders in the school’s social studies competition that year.
My final teaching job was as a secular teacher for four years at a very small Islamic school in Florida. It was a wonderful experience! Parents were very involved, and students worked hard. I made friends with my fellow teachers, and everyone treated me well.
We jokingly referred to our school as a “Little UN,” because we had students from a dozen different countries. There were many multicultural activities and special programs that I found fascinating. At a couple of school picnics, I painted faces and had my hand dyed with henna. There was a parent/teacher soccer game once, but I’ve never played soccer, so I just watched and cheered.
The first grade teacher, who later became the principal, and I used to do joint projects with our classes. We put on a joint Thanksgiving play, had pajama parties, planted a butterfly garden one year and a three sisters garden (a Native American garden with corn, beans and pumpkins) another year.
Our school was very community-minded. Some of the teachers volunteered to work at a soup kitchen. We participated in Florida’s week-long drug prevention program and raised money for Saint Jude Children’s Hospital during their bike-a-thon. We had field day, career day, social studies fairs, and science fairs. Several of our students went on to win prizes at the state level science fair, quite a feat for such a tiny school with only one lab table! The science teacher was outstanding!
While at the school, I remained in the classroom during some of the special classes, which were during my break. The Islamic studies teacher and the Koran teacher were both excellent, and I enjoyed sitting in on their classes. Sorry, I wasn’t up for the Arabic class! I also enjoyed listening to “Coach” during health class. Health class often overlapped with topics in our science class.
In one of my fourth grade classes in DC was a very polite and friendly boy I’ll call “Randy.” Randy was always smiling and telling me, “You look nice today, Mrs. Batavia.” One day during reading group, Randy was sitting next to me. “Mrs. Batavia, don’t you think it would be better if all the White people were dead?” he asked.
Others in the group were giving him dirty looks and elbowing him. “Randy, Mrs. Batavia is White!” they informed him. “Oh,” Randy said to me, “I thought you were light-skinned!”
In a Florida school, our sixth grade math class had been constructing solid geometric forms from neon-colored card stock. I hung them by strings from the ceiling. It was quite an impressive display! At about 2:00 AM, the motion detector alarm went off in the principal’s home…The next day, we had to take it all down!
I had brought a TV to school to show educational videos. One night, someone tried to break in and steal it. After that, I carried the TV back and forth every day. It was a long walk, and the TV was quite heavy, but I was younger and stronger then.
One morning I walked into my sixth grade classroom only to find the fish tank covered with a thick, white foam. All of the fish were dead. Was it soap? No, it turned out that someone had dropped peppermint hard candy into the tank. I never figured out who or why. I knew whoever did it was sorry the fish were dead, so I didn’t pursue it. What could they have been thinking?
Brushes with the Law
A very delightful and popular sixth grade student asked me to write a report about his school behavior and performance to be presented at a probation hearing. He came in the day after the hearing saying that the report had been instrumental in getting him off probation. He became a student leader and was always my friend and ally. The next year, I taught that same class again when my students were in seventh grade.
Another year at that school, I had a new sixth grade student from Haitii who came to school wearing an ankle bracelet. I don’t know what trouble he had gotten into, but he confided that he knew how to remove the ankle bracelet whenever he wanted to go somewhere and would put it back on when he returned home. He was very intelligent and a good student with a great sense of humor.
One day, he asked to go to the restroom. I should have told the next two students who asked to go to the restroom to wait their turn; the three of them were caught smoking rosemary in the restroom…brought by the boy wearing the ankle bracelet. Maybe that was better than smoking cornsilks!
One year in DC, students, most of whom walked to school, were terrified because a sinister-looking “clown” had been following them. They began walking in groups for safety.
Another year, my fourth grade students were crouching under their desks after we heard machine gun fire in the surrounding neighborhood.
In a Florida school, we had a bomb threat. The entire school walked to a nearby shopping center for safety. Several students who had asthma suffered in the heat and needed medical attention.
In another Florida school, we had a lockdown and could hear helicopters overhead looking for a criminal on the run.
More Heartwarming Stories
At a Florida school, I had some very nice girls in my third grade class. In the middle of the year, a new girl arrived from Haitii speaking very little English. I partnered her with girls who knew Haitian Creole. By the end of the year, the new girl had become very proficient in English and was an excellent student.
The inner city schools where I taught were in areas now known as “food deserts,” where people have little access to supermarkets and eat a lot of expensive “junk food” from convenience stores. I always felt guilty for providing candy or cookies as treats, so I often handed out grapes, which were very popular with students. One day I took a tray of cut-up vegetables and dip. I was surprised at how enthusiastic students were about eating raw vegetables! We had this treat fairly often after that.
At an Islamic school in Florida, cherry tomatoes and strawberries were popular treats. When students were on task during seat work, I would walk around the classroom and put a “Promise” dark chocolate on each student’s desk. Promise chocolates have interesting little messages printed inside the wrappers, and I soon discovered that students were making collections of these wrappers inside their notebooks. Yes, I admit it, I got students hooked on dark chocolate, a very healthy treat…in moderation!
The Islamic school in Florida was the last school of my career. I was interviewed by the first grade teacher and hired via email by the principal, who was visiting family in Cairo.
After four years at that school, I retired early because of health issues. During the last year, there were quite a few days I was not feeling well. In my previous schools, if students knew that you were “under the weather,” they took the opportunity to goof off and misbehave.
My fourth/fifth combination grade students at this school, most of whom I had previously taught in second grade, would say, “Miss Cheryl, we can tell you are not feeling well today. It’s OK; we will help you.” The class would then be particularly well-behaved, cooperative, and helpful for the rest of the day!
I was never tempted to teach again. I loved my students, but I was no longer able to give my best as a teacher. Instead, I wrote the environmentally-themed Hanging Out with Wild Animals books as my legacy as a teacher and to honor all of my students.